New York teacher fired for lesson about Central Park Five

Jeena Lee-Walker says administrators feared the lesson would incite "riots" and "rile up" black students.

In New York, a former teacher at an Upper West Side high school says she was fired for creating curriculum with lessons about the notorious Central Park Five case. According to a federal lawsuit, school administrators feared the lesson would incite "riots" and "rile up" black students. You've got to be kidding me.

NYC high school teacher claims she was fired for Central Park Five lessons that administrators feared would create 'riots'

Jeena Lee-Walker, who taught English at the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry, says that administrators asked her to be more "balanced" in her approach to teaching about the racially-charged Central Park jogger case. She agreed to "soften" her approach, but after several tense exchanges with supervisors and a series of bad performance reviews, she was ultimately fired.

In 1989, New York City was rocked by the brutal attack on Trisha Meili, who was assaulted and raped while jogging in Central Park. Five black and Latino teenagers -- Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kharey Wise --(dubbed "The Central Park Five") were arrested and convicted based on statements they claimed police coerced them to give. After spending years in prison, their convictions were vacated in 2002 when DNA evidence exonerated them and another man confessed to the crime.

(I highly recommend watching Ken Burns and Sarah Burns' documentary on the case, The Central Park Five.)

Lee-Walker tells the New York Daily News that she taught the case because she believed the material was not only engaging but important and relevant -- that students should indeed be "riled up." But she butted heads with administrators, who urged her to take a more "balanced" approach to the case.

"I was stunned," Lee-Walker says. "I was kind of like, the facts are the facts. This is what happened. These boys went to jail and lost 14, 18 years of their lives. How can you say that in a more balanced way?"

Lee-Walker says she was accused of insubordination, given poor evaluations and eventually fired in May.

Her lawsuit, which names the Department of Education and several school administrators as defendants, claims that the school's retaliation against her violated her First Amendment right to discuss the Central Park Five case, and that the firing violated the city's contract with the teacher's union because she was not given a required 60 days notice.

More here: NYC Teacher Claims She Was Fired for Lesson About Central Park Five


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